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Afghan Opium Trade Back in Business

by Patrick Cockburn In Kabul

Despite promises to crack down on the drugs trade, the new Afghan government has evicted the main drug control agency from its headquarters in Kabul and taken its vehicles.

“They literally threw us into the street,” said Mir Najibullah Shams, the Secretary-General of the State High Commission for Drug Control. “I don’t have a phone to call up commanders in the provinces. They didn’t even leave us with a bicycle.”

The contempt with which the new Afghan administration has treated its main drugs agency bodes ill for any attempt to curtail opium and heroin production in Afghanistan. This is despite promises by the new administration at the summit on aid to Afghanistan in Tokyo this week that it would try to reduce the flow of narcotics out of the country in return for $4.5bn (?3.2bn) from donors.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest exporter of heroin and provides about 80 per cent of Western Europe’s supply and an even higher proportion of heroin used in Russia and Central Asia. Between a third and a half of the Afghan population is believed by experts to be involved in growing, producing or trafficking in narcotics.

Mr Shams, who has taken refuge in a room in the Afghan Foreign Ministry, showed a number of maps illustrating the huge increase in the mid-nineties in the number of provinces growing opium poppies. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had successfully banned the planting of poppies in 1999, but the collapse of central government control in much of Afghanistan in the last two months may mean that farmers will once again produce opium.

The former headquarters of the High Commission for Drug Control is a substantial three-storey building which has been taken over by a newspaper called Payam-I-Mujaihid which supports the government. Mr Shams admits that its 300 employees were never able to do very much about narcotics because “until you solve the problems of the Afghan farmers they will produce drugs. What do you expect them to do when they are dressed in rags and their children have nothing to eat?”

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